It was an unforgettable first season in Boulder for Deion Sanders – and the hordes of fans who jumped on his bandwagon – for a lot of reasons. One thing it wasn’t ever was dull. It was never dull.

The Good, the Bad and the Deion, Mile High Sports December 12, 2022

Strike 1, the Good: A jam-packed spring game with ESPN on hand. A huge boost in season ticket sales. A season-opening upset of 2022 College Football Playoff finalist TCU, followed by thrilling wins over two big rivals, Nebraska and Colorado State. A full season of sellouts, at home and on the road. Record-breaking television audiences. Deion’s reality TV show. Deion on 60 minutes. Deion being named Sports Illustrated “Sportsperson of the Year.”

Even more than we expected? Perhaps. While no other Division I college football program pursued Sanders at this time a year ago – following his successful three year stint at FCS Jackson State – Colorado athletic director Rick George took a big swing. As a Hall of Fame defensive back, the resume of Sanders the player was beyond reproach. But as a head coach, he was still very much unproven. That couldn’t matter to George. Coming off a 1-11 season, CU needed a jump start.

Sanders gave them electro-shock therapy.

Worth the gamble? You bet.

For the first half of the season, the Colorado Buffaloes – not Alabama, not Georgia, not Ohio State – were the talk of college football. Must see TV. CU’s thrilling 2OT win over Colorado State was the most watched game in the nation over that first half of the season. Celebrities flocked to Boulder to stand on the sidelines and hang out in the glow of Neon Deion.

Some in the national media talked about Sanders as a future NFL head coach, sooner rather than later. His dramatic overnight rebuild of the CU roster has been seen by many – including Deion – as the new model in how to build a championship team.

And everyone was paying attention. Everyone.

After getting off to the hot start, Sanders boasted, “There ain’t no lose in me.” CU faithful bought in and bought his “Prime” merchandise. Praise flowed in from all corners. His son, quarterback Shedeur Sanders, was in the early Heisman Trophy discussion while clearly establishing himself as a future NFL signal caller. Sophomore defensive back/wide receiver Travis Hunter, who’d never played a game at the FBS level before arriving in Boulder, put up highlight reel play after highlight reel play – on both sides of the ball. It was just the beginning of what will become an All-America career. He was named college football’s most versatile player. Like Shedeur, Hunter is a future first round NFL draft pick.

George’s gamble on the inexperienced head coach paid off handsomely on the business side, right when it was needed most. CU football was in danger of becoming irrelevant, lost in the midst of successful pro franchises like the Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche and the resurgent Denver Broncos. George had to do something big. The only thing worse for a college program than getting bashed by fans and media is to be ignored by fans and media. CU was trending in that direction before Deion’s arrival. Then the opposite happened.

After the Sanders family had already settled in, it was announced that CU was leaving the Pac-12 and returning to the Big 12. That was seen as very good news on the business front of course (the Big 12 already has a lucrative media rights deal in place) and on the field, where games will likely kick off at more reasonable times (no more of the 8pm starts that Deion hates so much) and in friendlier locales.

Much of what made Colorado attractive to its “ex” was the spotlight Deion was bringing along.

Next year’s Big 12 schedule will most certainly be kinder to CU than the final year of the Pac-12 was. With Oklahoma and Texas moving to the SEC, the best teams in the 2024 Big 12 are likely to be newbies from the Pac, like Utah and Arizona. Kansas is resurgent, and K-State is solid. Still, there’s no question there will be more weaker links on the slate next season. That will be welcome.

CU should certainly be preparing for a bowl game at this time next year, and a healthy Shedeur will be a candidate for postseason awards, as will Hunter.

When Deion showed up last December, “Louis” in hand, everything changed. CU football mattered again. That was the biggest win of the year.